Expect 2018 to be a year of living dangerously as global tensions rise

Expect 2018 to be a year of living dangerously as global tensions rise

Anyone hoping to leave the turbulence of 2017 in the past will be in for a rude awakening. While we can’t know for certain what will unfold in the year to come, observable trends in several countries, including the U.S., give us a glimpse of what to expect in 2018.

First, in general, this will be an even more tempestuous year than 2017 was both in the U.S. and abroad. The wars in Ukraine and Syria will continue namely because Moscow cannot let go of Ukraine without admitting defeat, which is intolerable to Putin and his regime.

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In Syria, it increasingly appears that Moscow cannot deliver a political settlement since its client Bashar al-Assad can rely on Iran to thwart Russian pressure for a more broadly-based government. And since Russia is gripped by economic stagnation, anti-Americanism, and increasingly totalitarian repression not only will Putin be re-elected but he will move towards even more draconian repression and belligerent posturing abroad to safeguard his system.

 

This means more strife in world politics and more U.S.-Russian tension. Adding to that tension will be the release of Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE’s report that will reveal the parameters and broad scope of Russian intervention into our election in 2016 and the danger for 2018 and 2020.

Mueller’s report will inflame our domestic and foreign policies because President TrumpDonald John TrumpHannity urges Trump not to fire 'anybody' after Rosenstein report Ben Carson appears to tie allegation against Kavanaugh to socialist plot Five takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke's fiery first debate MORE continues to act like a man who has something to hide whether that is true or not. Little or nothing has been done to counteract renewed foreign (not only Russian interventions). Trump will not hear proposals to resist such encroachments because he believes they reflect badly upon his election triumph, and our politics are already gridlocked, so 2018 will be a year of increasing vituperation on the Hill and the nation.

But there is a broader reason why our politics will likely be increasingly partisan. It appears that Trump’s victory here and its repercussions abroad have triggered a global revolt against corrupt and unresponsive right-wing regimes. We saw this in South Korea in 2017 we are now seeing it in the Iranian demonstrations and we saw it in the 2017 elections where Republicans lost hitherto safe seats.

The results are also likely to be more partisanship in Congress leading to a Democratic turn in the November elections. Their outcome is likely to combine a growing public antipathy to the Trump administration as is already being reported by Republicans along with the impact of Mueller’s report. Even if it exonerates Trump personally others will not be so fortunate. Therefore there will likely be indictments, trials, and the political equivalent of incessant guerrilla warfare, none of which benefits Republicans.

But it is not only domestic issues that will embroil U.S. or other countries’ politics. China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea will continue probing the limits of the U.S. (and our allies) capacity to resist their encroachments on international order. Undoubtedly the most dangerous case is North Korea because the administration’s maximum pressure policy has utterly failed to stop North Korean nuclear programs, bring it to the table, or compel Russia or China to support us in these endeavors.

Indeed, those outcomes were predictable given regional geopolitics in Northeast Asia and their individual policies. Worse yet, Washington vituperative rhetoric and mounting threats have alarmed every other member of the six-party process on Korea while driving Kim Jong Un to accelerate his military programs and escalate his threatening rhetoric. Given the depths of mutual mistrust and incomprehension, and both sides’ forceful rhetoric there could well be a violent attempt to resolve the crisis in 2018. That is precisely what Russia, China, Japan, and South Korea fear. If conflict occurs in Korea it will undoubtedly add to the widespread spirit of partisan recrimination here.

Likewise, the continuation of Syria’s civil war, Putin’s re-election, and the intensifying Russo-Chinese drift to genuine totalitarianism (take China’s efforts to install surveillance of the entire country) will drive them, apart from economic issues like sanctions and trade wars, toward even more anti-American stances.

At the same time, Europe apparently continues to fail the grasp the magnitude of the threats to its prosperity and security and remains paralyzed in terms of resolute action even if European economies are growing. Indeed that growth will probably dispel the sense of urgency that is needed to meet these challenges.

Meanwhile, the failure of a Syrian state to emerge and the increasing tension within Iran and between it and the Arab Middle East and Israel will probably engender another year of violent stasis and stagnation as long-standing animosities and frustrations are preserved rather than alleviated. This could include another Intifada in Palestine. Even if that occurs it will likely fail, as did its predecessors.

To paraphrase Hemingway, it would be pretty to think that we are upon the path to peace and prosperity. But domestic and global developments here and elsewhere suggest that 2018 will really be a year of living dangerously. Would that we were wrong.

Stephen Blank, Ph.D., is a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council. He is the author of numerous foreign policy-related articles, white papers and monographs, specifically focused on the geopolitics and geostrategy of the former Soviet Union, Russia and Eurasia. He is a former MacArthur fellow at the U.S. Army War College.